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CYNIC

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal • United States


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Cynic biography
Formed 1987 in Miami, Florida, USA - Disbanded in 1994 - Reunited in 2006

CYNIC was formed in November, 1987 by guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert. To finish up the lineup, Mark Van Erp (later of MONSTROCITY) was added on bass and a friend named Jack Kelly was added on vocals thus making CYNIC a four-piece. This early incarnation of CYNIC was focused on making only brutal death metal with primary influence taken from bands such as VENOM, POSSESSED, KREATOR and DESTRUCTION. It is this lineup that would later be featured on the release of their first, self-titled demo in 1988.

After Jack left in 1988, Paul took over vocal duties, Jason Gobel was added on guitar and and in 1989, they cut their second demo, entitled "Reflections Of A Dying World", consisting of four songs. All of the songs on this demo were of the speed metal/thrash genre, with even some punk elements incorporated within. This lineup soon began touring the south Florida area and bootlegs exist of them as far back as May of 1988. Soon after, Mark left the band, Tony Choy was added on bass and in 1990, CYNIC released their third demo (also self-titled). This helped to gain them a large following throughout southern and central Florida, as well as their constant touring and cameo appearances in the south Florida area. This new lineup would remain intact until at least 1991.

At this time, the bands' influences were already starting to change. While they were still listening to contemporaries like ATHEIST, and were still inspired by seeing how "sick" some bands would get to express themselves, their technical, musical and creative abilities were growing, and consequently, they began listening to more technical forms of music. Their primary influences soon included jazz and fusion, such as Chick Corea and Allan Holdsworth, but also bands such as WATCHTOWER and Frank ZAPPA. This change in technical abilities had already made its way into their songs as the band took a great leap forward in musicianship for their second and third demos.

By the early part of 1991, CYNIC had evolved into a progressive speed/death metal type band, although the band themselves didn't really consider themselves to be death metal. The music had the technicality of progressive speed metal, with the brutality and vocal qualities of death metal. They cut a fourth and final demo in 1991 (financed by RoadRunner Records) consisting of three tracks. Two of these tracks would, in a dras...
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CYNIC discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

CYNIC top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.16 | 547 ratings
Focus
1993
4.14 | 524 ratings
Traced in Air
2008
3.55 | 175 ratings
Kindly Bent To Free Us
2014

CYNIC Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

CYNIC Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

CYNIC Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.50 | 4 ratings
Uroboric Forms (The Complete Demo Recordings)
2017

CYNIC Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

2.09 | 13 ratings
'88 Demo
1988
1.80 | 12 ratings
Reflections of a Dying World
1989
2.44 | 11 ratings
'90 Demo
1990
3.04 | 13 ratings
Demo 1991
1991
3.14 | 9 ratings
Promo 08
2008
3.90 | 87 ratings
Re-traced
2010
3.99 | 117 ratings
Carbon-Based Anatomy
2011
3.53 | 55 ratings
The Portal Tapes
2012
3.32 | 12 ratings
Humanoid
2018

CYNIC Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Focus by CYNIC album cover Studio Album, 1993
4.16 | 547 ratings

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Focus
Cynic Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by A Crimson Mellotron

4 stars Coming in times where progressive metal was just experiencing its genesis, Miami-based metal act Cynic happened to release a very challenging, controversial and different album. Hailing from the US extreme metal scene, the band has been gaining experience and prominence since 1987, packing all of their skills and impressions and explosively utilizing them to create this crazy album.

The first and most obvious aspect of the sound of 'Focus', is the similarity to 80s King Crimson which, as I presume, must have been somewhat of a blueprint on where the band should head to, as the album carries a lot of resemblance to 'Discipline'.

Of course, this is all broken through their extreme metal prism, with all the bruting, technical riffs and almost guttural vocals. But this still does not describe the full sonic picture. There is a lot of experimentation here, a strong jazz inclination, mainly by bassist Sean Malone, and if metal fusion was a thing, this album would have been a perfect fit.

The song structures also do not follow the usual death/extreme metal standards; instead, the band lets the songs to unveil as they play. An interesting moment is the 'robotic' vocals achieved through a vocoder-type effect, which if I understand correctly, Paul Masvidal did because of the danger of losing his voice. It sounds strange, even appalling at first, I must admit, but at the same time it is different and unexpected, and as the music plays on, it takes a more meaningful form; Also, I really can't think of another extreme metal band that incorporated such a thing into their music and in the end it sounded comprehensible.

In this regard, both vocalists fit quite well with the music, and they use their voices more like instruments, rather than to show off a certain skill or a style of singing. (keyboard player Tony Teegarden provides the death growls)

A rather spectacular playing can also be appreciated from drummer Sean Reinert and guitarists Jason Gobel and Paul Masvidal, who I already mentioned. The songs vary from catchy (yes, this description fits some of the songs here, especially the opening track) to very aggressive and fast-paced (like 'Celestial Voyage' or 'The Eagle Nature') to purely experimental numbers (like 'Sentiment', 'I'm but a Wave to' or 'Textures'), and most importantly they work very well as a whole, making the album an enjoyable experience.

The initial negative reaction to this was the reason for the band to split up quickly after 'Focus' came to life which only goes to show that when something is different and it provokes our perception, it gets rejected. However, this album is appreciated today and for good reasons, it is so inventive and original! No one really does progressive metal the way Cynic did it on 'Focus'.

 Carbon-Based Anatomy by CYNIC album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2011
3.99 | 117 ratings

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Carbon-Based Anatomy
Cynic Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars CARON-BASED ANATOMY EP

After giving the metal world a huge boost of more technically dazzling jazz-fusion workouts on its debut album "Focus" which remains an undisputed classic in the proggy metal section of the supermarket, CYNIC quickly called it quits and went on a 15 year hiatus at least as a brand name. Founding members guitarist / vocalist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert immediately went in the direction of ambient laced alternative pop in the indie rock band Æon Spoke while bassist Sean Malone went the opposite direction into the proggy jazz-fusion instrumental band Gordian Knot. Both bands released a few albums in the 90s and all was amicable with both Reinert and Masvidal appearing on Gordian Knot albums however the creative differences were vast.

Come 2006 and Masvidal decided to reform CYNIC and played a few gigs around Europe. The magic was rekindled which led to a new album that resulted in the lauded late but finally there followup "Traced In Air" which pretty much provided the perfect triumvirate effect of "Focus" era CYNIC merged with the atmospheric spiciness of Æon Spoke and the gnarled technical jazzy workouts as heard from Gordian Knot. While the death metal had been toned down several notches, several moments reminisced of the early days when the Tampa scene was still smoking hot. After "Traced In Air" things got a little weird. Instead of releasing another album, two years later the "new" CYNIC instead released an EP titled "Re-Traced" which reinterpreted four tracks from "Traced In Air" that took the bands sound closer to the world of Æon Spoke than early CYNIC but since this was just considered a little experimental blip between albums, metal fans just shook it off as one of those things.

Still awaiting a new album with the hopes of revisiting the "Focus" years, CYNIC surprised again with yet another EP titled CARBON-BASED ANATOMY to emerge in 2011 (11/11/11 actually) with only six tracks that amounted to only a mere 23 minutes of playing time. It was clear that the Æon Spoke side of the equation was here to stay when an unused track ("Homo Sapiens") from that band resurfaced as the title track. Out of the six tracks only three pick up where "Traced In Air" left off with the remaining three tracks sounding nothing like CYNIC at all, well at least not in such a way as they are presented. "Amidst The Coals" begins the playlist and upon first listen you wonder if you popped in the wrong disc as this sounds like some sort of ambient new age music! Yes, an ambient airy melody takes you into the ethers accompanied by Amy Correia from previous CYNIC albums offering a traditional icaro which is a magic song performed by Amazonian indigenous tribes in order to provide medicinal healing sessions.

The ambient prayer circle of the intro slowly fades into the more upbeat title track which instantly shows an uncanny production job of how each track seamlessly flows into the next on this EP which essentially makes this a six act suite of sorts. Along with the ambient synth sounds Reinert's jazzy drumming attacks slowly ushers in the vocals which find Masvidal's unique vocal style somewhere between U2's Bono in his passionate delivery and Toby Driver from Kayo Dot in eccentricity which in tandem finds a wider range of softer tones that bring the CYNIC sound into higher dimensions but still no metal! Well, that's what you begin to think until the four minute mark and then suddenly some heavy chord stomps and sizzling guitar solos remind you that CYNIC is, well at least WAS a metal band! Perhaps an ambient ethno-metal band at this point but enough to squeak into metal databases anyways!

The track is followed by the Ravi Shankar sounding "Bija!" which finds a sitar and tablas in conversation with female vocal chants however the melody is the same as the bridge of the title track and thus the subliminal connections have been made and then it sinks in on what a magnificent journey CARBON-BASED ANATOMY is for all its brevity! The next two tracks "Box Up My Bones" and "Elves Beam Out" both deliver the metal goods at last but are in no hurry to do so. Like the other tracks they begin with slow clean guitar arpeggios and atmospheric bliss before breaking out the bass grooves, percussive jazz lessons and guitar distortion. If you're looking for a connection to the "Traced In Air" album then you've found it at last and it does not disappoint however remember that you are in a cloud city now and that metal is just an after thought. Outbursts of heavy riffs and guitar solos crank out in full bombast but all in all this EP has demoted them to side notes rather than the star of the show.

As the EP ends with some kind of new age tribute to Enya with "Hieroglyph," Correia now recites a poem of cosmic grandeur as the atmospheric ambience swirls around her words as if zephyr winds were caressing Isis in mid-flight. And then a couple of minutes later the whole shebang is over. No doubt this may come off as a disappointment for those expecting a headbanging experience and that was even my initial reaction however this is a work of subtleties and sort of grows on you once you just bathe yourself in all its glory. While the metal bombast is set to simmer, the technical prowess of the musicians is on high although it does alternate between Brian Eno ambient textures and sounds more like Gordian Knot than early CYNIC. From a progressive rock perspective, this is an excellent album but for those who aren't so forgiving when the metal has been forbidden from making contact with the pedal then you will have to go back to "Focus" to get that fix. While admittedly a step down from the magnanimous masterpiece that resulted in "Traced In Air," CARBON-BASED ANATOMY is still very much a compelling piece of work in its own right.

 Traced in Air by CYNIC album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.14 | 524 ratings

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Traced in Air
Cynic Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

5 stars It's hard to convey some two decades into the 21st century what a big deal CYNIC's landmark album "Focus" was back in 1993 when it single-handedly shattered the playbook of death metal and took the fledgling genre into the world of jazz and electroncia. Part Morbid Angel, part Mahavishnu Orchestra and part Massive Attack, this Miami based band basically launched a whole new strain of what would be coined jazz-metal and then called it quits. The consequences of "Focus" being thrown into the limelight of underground extreme metalheads was that it upped the bar several notches in the proficiency department and while band's like Death and Atheist were in the fusion game as well, CYNIC took progressive metal into a completely different dimension with "Focus" which remains a high mark to which technical metal music wizards still strive to emulate.

Despite dropping one of metal's most revered albums onto on unsuspecting world, CYNIC quickly disbanded as they were working on a second studio album due to musical and personal differences. Jason Gobel (guitars), Paul Masvidal (guitars, vocals) and Sean Reinert (drums) continued together and formed a short-lived band called Portal (before the Australian band of the same name came around), bassist Sean Malone formed the fusion-metal band Gordian Knot and then Reinert and Masvidal formed yet another band called Aeon Spoke which was more of a pop album centered around an acoustic emo style. The former members of CYNIC happily went their own ways for almost 15 years but some of the members were starting to feel that they had unfinished business to take care of in the world of CYNIC and in 2006 Paul Masvidal announced that CYNIC would reunite to play at various metal and rock festivals. With no new album the band played songs from "Focus" the band Portal as well as a few covers and the new song "Evolutionary Sleeper."

The new band minus Gobel decided the time was right to resurrect CYNIC and finish the material started for a sophomore album that never made it the first time around. With new guitarist Tymon Kruidenier, CYNIC finally released its second album TRACED IN AIR in 2008, fifteen long years after "Focus." While expectations were cast upon that debut masterpiece as a reference point as to where the band might develop its new sounds, the fact that there was a 15 year delay and several other band experiences in between meant that TRACED IN AIR was more like the sum of all that came before and as the title indicates is more focused on an AIR-y feel as opposed to a knock your socks off death metal extravaganza. While still steeped in massive molten metal guitar antics, TRACED IN AIR was more of a light technical display of jazzy chord progression displayed in echoey arpeggios that set the tone for the eruptive heavier elements to follow and not the other way around. There were less dueling twin guitar leads and more focus to layering effects of polyrhythms and guitar tones.

From the chaotic swirls of "Nunc Fluens" that sound like the band acting as a receiver channeling the ethers to like a radio station, the rhythmic chaos slowly coalesces into the jazzed up guitar riffs that reassure that the band was still in the metal camp however brief they may be before the unadulterated jazz guitar intro of "The Space For This" sets an overall tone for TRACED IN AIR as Masavidal delivers his tender clean vocals in a subdued passionate plea, a style that he implements throughout the album that only harkens back to "Focus" with Kruidenier's growly vocal accompaniments limited to backing supplement contrasting effects. The beauty of TRACED IN AIR is how it effortlessly transmogrifies from placid spaced out jazz guitar runs to blistering jazzy fusion metal with Reinert's drumming virtuosity often taking center stage. As with focus, a feminine vocal counterpoint finds its way into key moments as to soften the raging rampages of the metal aspects as Amy Correia takes the place of SAonia Otey.

While "Focus" was fairly scattered, TRACED IN AIR is actually the more "focused" album of the two as the album displays a perfect mix of disparate elements which finds each track running into the next and the softness and bombastic playing together like well behaved children at a Christmas play. It's clear that the chemistry was on fire once again and CYNIC crated an unbelievable successful comeback with this menagerie of technically infused jazz-metal that while not as revolutionary as the band's first album was unbelievably relevant for the time of its release. Gone are the vocoder effects and thus this album is less alienating and more intimate but the bursts of angularity are steered into jazzy harmonies and melodies that keep the entire album feeling unified. This is one that may disappoint upon the first listen if you have already gone gaga over "Focus" but as i've listened to this many times over the years, it's one that grows on you in a completely different way. Drop the comparisons and meditate on TRACED IN AIR on its own terms and it quickly becomes clear that this is a flawless album that delivers another magic moment in the world of progressive metal and the production is flawless.

 The Portal Tapes by CYNIC album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2012
3.53 | 55 ratings

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The Portal Tapes
Cynic Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by UMUR
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars "The Portal Tapes" is a full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Cynic. The album was released through Season of Mist in March 2012. It's not really a Cynic album though and it was probably only released under the Cynic monicker to capitalize on the wave of success that Cynic were riding after their comeback in 2006. The material featured on "The Portal Tapes" were originally recorded under the Portal monicker after Cynic disbanded in 1994. Although Cynic split-up Paul Masvidal (guitars, vocals), Sean Reinert (drums), and Jason Gobel (guitars) opted to continue playing together and formed Portal with Cris Kringel (bass), and female vocalist/keyboard player Aruna Abrams. Portal recorded enough material for a full album, but the project ended up shelved until 2012 when Season of Mist picked it up and released it under the Cynic monicker.

Stylistically there are many similarities between Cynic and Portal, but there are also some fundamental differences. First off Portal features female clean vocals as well as male clean vocals, and no extreme distorted vocals. Next there are no hard edged riffing or anything remotely aggressive about the music. The material on "The Portal Tapes" is a dreamy atmospheric/new age type of music with fusion oriented rhythms as the foundation (maybe new age fusion isn't the worst description). There's an almost ethereal spiritual quality to the proceedings, which song titles like "Karma's Plight", "Cosmos", and "Mirror Child" also suggest.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. Aruna Abrams is a skilled vocalist, and Paul Masvidal's sedated dreamy vocals compliment her well. It's all very pleasant sounding and relaxing but by no means simple or easily accessible. You'll have to dig for hooks and the tracks aren't instantly easy to tell apart either. The latter is a slight issue to my ears, and the songwriting could have prospered from a bit more variation and more catchy moments. The album is very well produced, featuring a clean, clear, and detailed sound, which suits the atmospheric music well. So while the music doens't make as much impact as it could have, "The Portal Tapes" is still a pretty interesting release for fans of atmospheric music with fusion rhythms and clean female/male singing, and the high level musicianship and professional sounding production pull in a positive direction too. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

(Originally posted on Metal Music Archives)

 Humanoid by CYNIC album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2018
3.32 | 12 ratings

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Humanoid
Cynic Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by UMUR
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars "Humanoid" is a digital one-track single release by US progressive metal act Cynic. The single was released through Season of Mist in January 2018. Itīs the first release with new original material since the bandīs third full-length studio album "Kindly Bent to Free Us" from 2014. I expected the single to be a successor to a new studio album in 2018 but at this point (January 2019) a full year later, Cynic still havenīt released their fourth full-length studio album. Since the release of "Kindly Bent to Free Us" thereīs been a major lineup change as drummer and founding member Sean Reinert left in 2015. He is replaced here by Matt Lynch, who has some pretty big shoes to fill.

Stylistically "Humanoid" sounds a bit more like the progressive metal oriented material on "Traced in Air (2008)", than the more progressive rock oriented material on "Kindly Bent to Free Us (2014)", but itīs not a particularly heavy track. Paul Masvidal only sings using his clean voice, and his almost sedated and slightly melancholic vocal style is probably as much an aquired taste as always. He has the sort of voice and singing style which would fit perfectly on an alternative rock album.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts, and the sound production is professional and detailed, so while "Humanoid" to my ears isnīt a mind blowingly great track, as it brings little new to the Cynic palette, and therefore doesnīt stand out much in their discography, itīs still a good quality atmospheric progressive metal track like only Cynic can make them. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

(Originally posted on Metal Music Archives)

 Focus by CYNIC album cover Studio Album, 1993
4.16 | 547 ratings

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Focus
Cynic Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Luqueasaur

3 stars It plays just like Crimson, except it isn't Crimson: 7/10

Mixing a small dose of electronic music on a death metal sonority makes a futuristic extreme metal of some sort that, apparently, packs quite a punch. FOCUS is a good album and in many ways different from the ordinary "progressive" (most of the times it's just technical) death metal. The active guitar and bass presence is something to behold, and the ecstasy of each track is electrifying. However, the album also bears its cons. First, the main vocals are terrible. The growling isn't of an annoying type, it's just poorly executed. Granted, the robotic chants that sometimes accompanies it are really cool, but that's how far it goes - the duo of horrible and decent. Its second and utmost flaw is the lack of eclectism. All tracks sound way too similar to each other. If anything, FOCUS sounds like a 36-minutes-long with eight acts, because no matter the style - acoustic, ambient, aggressive - the tracks all seem to share a common core of melodies, chord progressions, and all those other fancy music theory stuff. While it doesn't denigrate FOCUS' enjoyability, it certainly makes me doubt of CYNIC's musicianship capability. They add something new to the table but fail to develop their idea. And for that matter, the further I can go is to acknowledge it is a good, but not essential album.

 Kindly Bent To Free Us by CYNIC album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.55 | 175 ratings

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Kindly Bent To Free Us
Cynic Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Prog Leviathan
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Cynic has an epic reputation here on Prog Archives, blending styles from many different places of inspiration to create a sound that is artistic, dense, heavy, and challenging. It's the kind of music that gives fans of modern prog that heady, Crimson-like fix of unapproachable yet enjoyable metal. Some of the fun might come from simply knowing you've got the gusto to enjoy such an obscure and cerebral band as Cynic! Kindly Bent to Us continues that tradition, which sadly will be the group's last album, having "officially" disbanded. Yet, for a band that has produced only 3 albums in more than 20 years, I don't think that's saying much.

I have mixed feelings about Cynic's discography. I didn't care for their first album, but loved their second, Traced in Air. Fortuneteller Kindly Bent to Us isn't quite as good as that second release, but it still has a lot to enjoy. I didn't find it nearly so "experimental" or a "new direction" for the band as others described. Kindly Bent to Us has a lot going for it, it just has a harder time connecting to the listener.

The first thing to note is that overall this album is much more mellow than either of the two that preceded it. While the group's metal sound is intact, it's not as aggressive or powerful. This gives the album a more nuanced feel that is more textural than Focus, yet less complete feeling than Traced in Air. Regardless, this album still offers a high amount of dynamic and tempo changes to explore. From a songwriting perspective, the tracks are structure-less and complex. They aren't schizophrenic, but certainly don't have conventional melodies or rhythms to latch on to. It's the kind of music that demands careful listening, because the disjointed combination of sounds makes for bad background music.

There is a lot of variety crammed into the 40 minute running length, and each song has at least one stunning instrumental moment or artistic hook that pulls you into its web of sounds; though, the second half grab me much more than the first. The band's instrumental playing is very much the standout of the album.

All in all a solid purchase for those who enjoy their metal complex and highly nuanced, though I don't think Kindly Bent to Us will find regular rotation in most people's listening because of it's unapproachable. If you're new to Cynic, check out the more memorable Traced in Air first.

Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 2 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

 Focus by CYNIC album cover Studio Album, 1993
4.16 | 547 ratings

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Focus
Cynic Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Prog Leviathan
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Focus is a highly complex, challenging, and cryptic metal album from early in the prog-metal period. It is frequently described as "death metal meets jazz" by other reviewers, but I think this is an over simplification because it probably won't sell a fan of either of those two genres of music alone on the group's sound. Focus isn't heavy, oppressive, or loud enough to be conventional death metal, and it isn't so open-ended or mellow enough to be avant garde jazz. So what the heck is Focus?

Well, it's definitely more metal than anything else. There is a prevalence of chugging, guitar shredding, and growling vocals to lock it firmly into that genre; however, it's very tame compared to "real" metal bands like Slayer or Metallica or (insert "real" metal band here). Focus is noisy and moderately aggressive, but it's not going to destroy you with metal awesomeness. Maybe that's where the jazz comes in? The band strives, and succeeds, to make their flavor of metal highly instrumental and complex. There are countless time/key/dynamic changes within songs, and each of the players is on top of their game. The drumming is one feature that I think distinguishes Focus from other metal bands, Reinert's playing is clear and often the "jazziest" of the bunch; very different sounding for a metal group. As a whole, the quite moments on Focus are more interesting than the real metal ones, which is part of the reason why I enjoyed the more mature Traced in Air than Focus.

Let's talk briefly about the vocals. Yes there are death metal growls; there are also electronically altered singing. Both of which are weak and don't contribute much of anything to the overall effect. It is very difficult to distinguish any of the lyrics, and both singers are surprisingly monotone. This makes the vocals just sort of "there," contributing to the noise of the album in the way that a crying baby contributes to the annoyances of a busy restaurant. It's there, you can ignore it if you're strong enough, or you can focus on it and get frustrated and let it ruin your meal.

You may have heard that Opeth is another of these "death metal for people that hate death metal" bands. Again, this is an over simplification, but I think it's much more true than with Cynics work here. Focus is death metal for math-rock enthusiasts that value technical proficiency and experimentation. Even though short, I found myself happy that it ended when it did.

There are a lot of sounds crammed into this 35 minute album, and if you're interested in instrumental hard rock/metal, then you've found a great album with some amazing playing. That's with the notable caveat that you can tolerate a very noisy and structure less album that lacks emotional touchstones or identifiable lyrics. As a fan of Prog Archives, that's probably OK with you, but be warned: Focus will probably not jump out at the average listener or beg for repeat listening. It's an album that happens whether you want it to or not, and doesn't make much appeal to invite the listener to the party.

Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 1 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 2

 Kindly Bent To Free Us by CYNIC album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.55 | 175 ratings

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Kindly Bent To Free Us
Cynic Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Necrotica
Prog Reviewer

2 stars Experimentation is one of the riskiest gambles in music, particularly in metal music. On one hand, there's the task of catering to the already established fanbase, but then there's either the hunger to expand that fanbase or to explore completely uncharted territory, usually with varying degrees of success. Most of the time, successful experiments have still managed to receive some sort of backlash from the community, going to show that you can't please everyone. Cynic's second album, Traced in Air, is pretty much the epitome of that phrase in the progressive metal world; while being a fantastic follow-up to the groundbreaking prog/jazz/death metal debut Focus, there was still a certain crowd who didn't think it was "metal enough" or more prominently, "long enough." If you were in the "not metal enough" category, then you're really going to be shocked at their newest effort Kindly Bent to Free Us. Then again, judging by the group's EPs following Traced in Air (Re-Traced and Carbon-Based Anatomy), there was a clear indication that the band were heading toward a softer direction. Hell, Traced in Air was already much lighter than Focus. When you get down to it, experimentation is a refreshing change when it's done well; however, this new record (reinventing Cynic's sound yet again) is nothing short of complete garbage.

Kindly Bent to Free Us is quite aptly named, as the entire experience sounds kinder and gentler than the group's previous records. You'll hear 100%-clean vocals from Paul Masvidal, as well as a more layered, textural sound based heavily on jazz phrasing and chord progressions. While the jazz influence was prominent on Focus and Traced in Air, it really becomes the forefront on this record as most of the guitar chords and bass lines are built around a jazz fusion framework, albeit frequently on the calmer side. However, the first song "True Hallucination Speak" is a bit of a false alarm, its guitar intro being quite atonal and suggesting something a bit more frantic. Even the groove it settles into is pretty technical from an electric guitar and bass standpoint, but then once the vocals enter the picture, everything sorta crumbles. First of all, Paul is not a very engaging singer for this album's more-distorted moments, often making the music underwhelming and pretty awkward. Truthfully, adding a few growls or vocoder singing would possibly have benefited these moments pretty nicely, but as is, the singing's not very fitting.

The music, while not offensively bad, seems really directionless; one of the worst things you can say about an album is that it doesn't leave any impression at all, and this album sadly nails it. "The Lion's Roar" has a verse in the beginning that sounds as if it were lifted straight from "Integral Birth" from the previous album, similar rolling drum beat and all. While it doesn't last long, it gives off a recycled feel about it and seems like a bit of a cop-out. Some song sections sound completely out-of-place and don't match with a given tone. The title track opts to build its dynamics up gradually, leading to an intense climax around the middle, when all of a sudden it just comes to a complete halt. The instruments die down, then drop off completely for a sparse guitar and bass segment before randomly bursting back into the distortion again out of nowhere. Why? Was there any purpose? It certainly didn't flow well, given its placement right in the very middle of the track. Perhaps if it was near the end it would have been able to serve more of a purpose to build to another climax, but it comes off as really awkward and unneeded.

The biggest issue with the album is that everything just becomes a giant blur after only a few minutes of listening. Nothing ever stands out or comes off as being engaging, no matter the dynamics. While "Infinite Shapes" has an extended clean intro that seems welcome to break up the monotony, the distorted portions go right back to the same old jazz chord progressions and the same slow pace. Despite the experimentation on this album, as it consists of more clean sections and even more jazz fusion and soft rock elements, I think the boys in Cynic forgot that it's not just the experimentation that defines an album, but what how you execute it as well. On another note, Sean Reinart's drumming is seriously underplayed here. He usually goes between 6/8 and 4/4 time signatures, and oftentimes his drumwork will simply follow a precise stacatto guitar and bass melody or just keep the rhythm section in check as Paul's lead work and vocals adorn the foreground of the music. Considering how talented Reinart is on the drums, this seems like a serious step back in his work with the band. Hell, despite some solos here and there, even Paul Masvidal is really subdued here as well. It's worth noting that a decent chunk of this album bears a strong resemblance to a certain Cynic side project known as Aeon Spoke, which does indeed focus more on the lighter elements of Paul and Sean's musical influences. This just begs the question: why would Cynic go this far in Aeon Spoke's direction when there's already an Aeon Spoke around? It brings the already-tenuous credibility of Cynic's recent sound change to a pile of rubble. This album is just not worth listening to for any reason other than to hear how far a band can fall in such a short time. This isn't a slight dip in quality, it's an avalanche. As the final track "Endlessly Bountiful" slowly crescendos from a soft progressive rock ballad into a beautiful burst of distortion and energy, one can only wish that this musical epiphany had occurred way earlier in the record. As it calms down and ends with a whimper, it's realized that the album ends the same way as it began... being unmemorable.

(Originally posted on Sputnikmusic)

 Traced in Air by CYNIC album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.14 | 524 ratings

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Traced in Air
Cynic Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Necrotica
Prog Reviewer

4 stars There are just some bands who absolutely love to cross the boundaries of musical prowess or creativity, whether a record's revolutionary or just plain amazing. Cynic, Death, and Atheist were a bit of a "Big Three" of progressive death back in the early 90's, but why? Why would they be there, other than being early? Many reasons could come up, but those 3 simply had more creativity and talent at the time. Most technical metal bands today rely heavily on overly clean recording techniques and lots (and I mean lots) of sweep picking and shredding. They almost lost that sort of experimental edge of the early days.

The thing is, Cynic's first release, Focus, embodied that aforementioned experimental edge perfectly and struck a balance between the baffling and the rewarding. So many progheads were astounded at the level of technicality and emotion that went into the record, as well as individual prowess. Plus, the other thing that Cynic (along with Atheist) had that most others don't is the extremely high level of jazz fusion put into the album. The record simply did not disappoint, and it brought in newcomers of progressive music, as well as metal, and remains a legend to this day.

Traced in Air is a bit of a successor, but more of spiritual successor than an actual sequel to the original. Released 15+ years after the original, hype was high, but Cynic knew how to cater to (most) fans while bringing in new ones as well. Cynic knew not to make an easy cash-in, especially after 15 years, as fans would become ridiculously enraged at such a sight after so much anticipation. So what did Cynic do for Traced in Air?

They topped the original.

One thing that received mixed opinions was the level of accessibility this album has, and it is indeed more accessible to listen to. However, that doesn't detract from such an experience as this. The instrumentalists are still top-notch, as is their quality. Paul Masvidal's odd robotic vocals have been swapped for better, more regular vocals. The growls are cleaner as well, and drums are as technical as ever. Now think of that, and, on top of that, cleaner production. You basically get a recipe for success.

The influences on this album are more diverse as well. You'll get some King Crimson here and there, a bit of Rush, some Porcupine Tree, and so on. Cynic spreads these influences out and put in their own signature sound, creating something truly unique and never seen before in progressive metal.

Of course then, you'd need a strong opening, right? Well, the beginning is MUCH different from the one seen previously in Veil of Maya. That one bursts out of the gate, while Nunc Fluens offers more of a traditional prog intro, but has unique synth effects and tribal drumming. The track is somewhat mesmerizing and offers an excellent introduction to the album.

The following songs contain a phenomenal amount of quality, as well as new crazy twists and turns. "The Space for This" has such a dreamy intro with the vocals aiding to that effect, before it builds into an epic riff going to the verse. The same structure goes for "King of Those who Know," one of the highlights of the record. It has female-type vocals to begin, and builds up to an amazing verse.

"Evolutionary Sleeper" is unique all its own, and features some of Paul Masvidal's best vocals as it clocks in at 3:34, one of the shortest tracks. More power to it, as the concise feel of the song is very tight in instrumentation and production. The growls are also featured here, as well as in other places. The chorus is quite dreamy, and then a jazzy solo ends the song. Great stuff.

Now's time to talk about individual talents. First of, it seems that Paul Masvidal has improved tenfold on this album, and it shows. The vocals are a huge plus here, especially on "Integral Birth," which has a bit more of an accessible feel to it. Gone are the weird robotic effects, and now semi-normal vocals take place with the assistance of a digitized "octave voice." His guitar solos are now more concise as well, and still very excellent.

Sean Reinart just destroys the drums here, showing his best performance yet. On "The Space for This," his technical drumming permeates the whole ordeal, while never being too overbearing. He has such a unique and fresh drumming style. The other members keep up as well, too, providing a nice pace for Masvidal and Reinart to shine.

Overall, this album is an odd entity, and one that is truly mind-blowing. Any fan of progressive metal/rock should not miss this, and it's taken a lot more as an experience.

(Originally published on Sputnikmusic)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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